Outrage in Brooklyn over '40 Ounce' water bottle that looks like malt liquor
It’s blackface in a bottle.
That’s what outraged Brooklyn residents are calling a marketing ploy to sell spring water in 40-ounce containers that look like malt liquor bottles.
An upstart company founded by a Hollywood actor is in hot water with NYCHA activists after selling H20 in bottles shaped like Colt 45, Olde English and Private Stock — beverages historically targeted to generations of people in black neighborhoods.
Ounce Water, founded in 2015 by Sons of Anarchy star Theo Rossi and his wife Meghan, is trying to reach urban communities by selling the drinking water with the tagline “Get Ounced!” and a hip-hop-influenced marketing campaign.
But the Rossis’ burgeoning plan to hydrate urban America hit a snag after members of the local activists threw cold water on the plan, enraged over Ounce’s attempt to build a brand “based on the alcoholic products that are murdering our community.”
“In a community that has been ravaged by alcohol and drugs, we are confused as to why someone would create a product that so closely resembles a malt liquor bottle,” members of the activist group Breukelen RISE said in a letter to the company. “We cannot get behind this product staying on the shelves in our community.”
After the activists complained, last week, the bottles were removed from Canarsie’s Food World Supermarket on E. 107th Street, and replaced with 20-ounce bottles from the same company. But the damage was already done.
“It leaves a sour taste in my mouth and I’m not going to buy it,” said Thora Lashley, a Breukelen Houses resident for more than 50 years.
“It’s the way they presented it. We didn’t have problem with Aquafina or Deer Park water because they came in regular bottles. If I was to see a young teenage boy walking around with a 40 ounce bottle of the water, I’d be disgusted and I would go and buy him a different kind of water.”
The water bottle bungle spilled over during a month — Black History Month — that featured apparel giant Gucci apologizing over a blackface sweater, and Burberry saying it was sorry for a hoodie that featured a noose around the neck.
"They called the store and said we were promoting alcoholism by selling water in that bottle,” said Food World manager, Kevin Chang, 38. “They said they'd come and protest unless we got rid of them. We called the manufacturer. They came and took the 40s and gave us the 20s. To be quite honest, it does look like an Olde English, but it's plastic. It's not glass. It's just water. It says water on the contents."
“It’s insulting to our intelligence,” Lashley said. “ What’s next candy corn in a crack vial? Juice in a syringe? We do not want the 1,575 families who live in the Breukelen Houses seeing that in the store.”
Lashley saw countless friends succumb to alcoholism growing up in the city housing. She said friends as young as 12 would become alcoholics. She’d spot them drinking 40s in the hallways, on stoops and in courtyards.
Rudolph Chase, 40, a substance abuse counselor who lives in the neighborhood, said the bottle is a bad idea.
"Kids like to idolize what they see adults do,” Chase said. “If they see their parents drink a 40, they might buy this water to emulate that experience. Who's to say they won't enjoy that experience so much that they try and get the real thing. What does that lead to? Alcoholism."
But Meghan Rossi said the company is only trying to promote healthy habits and proper hydration.
“OUNCE WATER has one mission: to encourage proper hydration,” the company said in a statement. “Our motto is "hydration made easy". OUNCE WATER's 20 oz, 40 oz and upcoming 10 oz bottles help do the math to reach the 80 oz daily water goal.”
But residents say it doesn’t wash.
“It’s the same as play cigarettes. It’s grooming. It’s precursor to making you comfortable holding that bottle.” said Christine Gilliam, 54, a longtime Breukelen Houses resident. “It’s not what’s in the bottle — it’s the bottle itself. We would love it if everybody would drink more water, but nobody in my family is going to drink that water as long as it’s in that bottle.”